Why is it that talented, educated, and well-informed people are willing to consider and accept unpaid internships? Or, even worse, pay college tuition while they work for a company? Talk about adding insult to injury. Is it that everybody is doing it, so it’s okay? Or is it because your college advisor is promulgating this swill? Here’s the deal: it’s a bad idea to take an unpaid internship. Why? Three words: value, worth, and respect.
When you accept an unpaid internship, you are consciously – or unconsciously – proclaiming to yourself and potential employers that your work has no value, or that any mindless drone could accomplish the tasks. If you were actually performing valuable work for the organization, they would compensate you for your efforts.
Unpaid internships put you on the edge of a precipitous cliff, a pinnacle that irrevocably states you are willing to be underpaid right at the start. You are so desperate you worked for free. So for many potential employers, the question is, how low can we go when hiring you? This is an especially sharp double-edged sword for women, who earn less than their male counterparts right out of college. That fact is compounded as future raises are directly linked to your current pay, thus perpetuating the gender pay gap and lost pay over a lifetime.
Do you know your worth to prospective employers? You need to, so do your homework and research. Never sell yourself short. You may as well throw yourself off that proverbial cliff when you take an unpaid internship, as you have created an enormous pit you must climb out of. After all, your work is not worth much since you’ll do it for nothing. Is this really the message you want to communicate to potential employers? I don’t think so.
Get a grip on your self-esteem and recognize your incredible worth to any organization lucky enough to hire you. Be the driver of your own destiny. Your approach and confidence speak loud and clear to hiring managers. You are talented, qualified, and an asset. Always interview the company to determine if it’s a good fit for you and accept nothing less than your worth. Take the high road and a paid position. You are firmly establishing your road to career success.
By now you should all be able hear Aretha. You deserve respect and respect means equal pay. Why on earth demean yourself to take an unpaid internship, and work side by side with a paid employee doing exactly the same work? It’s an unconscionable scam perpetuated by employers and colleges to get your precious labor with zero return for you.
Whatever the unpaid internship is, there are companies who will pay you to gain the same or similar experience and transferable skills. Employers give unpaid interns every negative you can imagine. Zero respect, no real opportunity for future employment, and they run through unpaid interns like a starving succubus. So stand up for yourself and demand the respect you richly deserve. You deserve to be paid for your hard work. Sing it, Aretha!
Say No to Unpaid Internships
If you are pursuing a course of study that advocates unpaid internships, push back. If your college advisor or the program requires an unpaid internship, provide them a copy of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA requires employers to pay everyone working for them a minimum wage, except volunteers who work “solely for humanitarian purposes.” Unless this unpaid internship is for humanitarian purposes, which is highly doubtful, it’s illegal. Don’t give in. You are setting yourself up for a lifetime of lost pay.
Instead, follow the trails to a paid position. They’re out there. Every paid position offers experience and the chance to learn new skills, and firmly establishes yourself as an individual who recognizes their value and worth. Don’t settle for anything less.
Lynn Whitbeck is the co-founder and President of Petite2Queen. She is focused on identifying and evaluating opportunities for women at work, helping them define their personal roadmap. She dedicates herself to delivering tools and insights, embracing visualization of the big picture, and identifying and implementing the minutiae of detail. Lynn aims to share lessons learned along her journey and enable positive uplift for women.